Teaching About Our History Can Create a More Equitable Future
PART II: Being Latino and Working in Education Today
Interview By: R.D. Leyva
White supremacy often rests on erasing the histories of People of Color. In many classrooms across the country, the histories of the Latino community are not being told and, as a result, Latino students don’t connect the curriculum to their own lived experiences. As educators, we fail when we don’t make learning relevant for our students of color and are passively complicit in upholding White supremacy.
Ensuring Latinos stories permeate our curriculum continues to be a hotly debated topic across the country. Since 2010, opposition to an Ethnic Studies curriculum made headlines in Arizona until last month when an Arizona court ruled that banning Mexican American studies was racist. In Texas, after being defeated last year, advocates are still fighting for statewide textbooks to include Mexican American heritage.
This issue is of importance to one of our Latinos for Education members, Antonio Plascencia Jr. He is the Director of Civic Engagement at the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and for the past eight years, worked with LAUSD in community-driven school turnaround and created models and strategies placing parents at the forefront of improving neighborhood schools.
As the second feature in our Hispanic Heritage Month Interview Series, I asked Antonio to share reflections about his identity and discuss what it means to be Latino and working in education in 2017.
How has your Latino identity impacted your approach to leadership?
ANTONIO PLASCENCIA, JR: I was raised, like many Latinos in this country, by a village of aunts, cousins, family friends, and educators – each playing a fundamental role contributing to my approach to leadership. As Latino’s, our families shape how we lead and serve our communities. They teach us the principles of trust, commitment, sharing and respect. Whenever our hometown in Mexico was in need of resources, or if a family member had a need, my village assessed the situation, ensured that everyone’s skills were valued and respected, and achieved a solution collectively.
How does this approach play out in your work as an education leader?
ANTONIO PLASCENCIA, JR: In my professional role, I practice the same principles taught by my family when I work with educators, parents, and students addressing delicate scenarios in schools. From my years working on the school turnaround team at LAUSD, I recall many school site educators and parents were distrustful of anything coming from the district. This did not surprise me as many had struggled with navigating the education system themselves. It wasn’t easy, but our interactions eventually turned into partnerships built on trust, listening to and learning from one another, and resulted in our working towards a mutually defined vision of success. This approach to leadership and service extended my work family across a space that covers 710 square miles. I am grateful to my family for teaching me how to respectfully and collaboratively serve my community.
Given everything happening in the world today (i.e. elimination of DACA, Charlottesville, etc.), what does it mean to be Latino and working in education in 2017?
ANTONIO PLASCENCIA, JR: To be Latino and working in education today carries an obligation to ensure the collective actions led by our past generations are not forgotten and that we unapologetically advocate on behalf of the diverse families we serve. The Civil Rights Movement, but more specifically the Chicano Movement in Los Angeles, taught me to speak up, to be a lever of change in my communities, and to celebrate that Latinidad does not have a definite description or mold.
To be a Latino educator today means we must teach our history to new generations so the progress we achieve on behalf of our students is much bolder and equitable in the future. For instance, during the 1990’s my parents taught me to love my identity as a Mexicano-Americano and to celebrate my bilingualism. Meanwhile the governor and voters in my state passed a law that took my right to access bilingual education. My commitment to public education is to see institutions teach children and families of all races and ethnicities to find their identity, to love their language, to appreciate their skin color, and become an educated member of the community on their own terms and with no limitations. This is what it means to be Latino and working in education today.
“To be a Latino educator today means we must teach our history to new generations so the progress we achieve on behalf of our students is much bolder and equitable in the future.”
–Antonio Plascencia, Jr
As a Latino community of education leaders, what is our collective responsibility?
ANTONIO PLASCENCIA, JR: A narrative of hate, xenophobia, and White supremacy is seeking to reverse the progress and rights achieved by educators and activists in our modern history. Our collective responsibility as Latinos working in education today is to counteract the hate with acts that celebrate the diversity found in our nation, our states and our communities. Whether you are in the classroom, leading a school as administrator, working for a non-profit or with an elected representative we must build coalitions that amplify the accomplishments achieved by our communities. I was inspired to hear some of my mentors share how inspired they were to see how individuals and coalitions mobilized in support for DACA students this month. They shared in some cases they were unable to get public and private sector organizations to condemn acts against immigrants in past decades. It is our responsibility to learn about our past and to amplify our voices even louder today.
Is there a call to action that you would encourage people to take?
ANTONIO PLASCENCIA, JR: We should all ensure the youth that surround us are civically engaged, aware of the social issues that divide our country and are prepared to address hate with knowledge and action.